Blessed Virgin Mary: August 2010 Archives

Assumption Maronite icon.jpg

Christianity holds forth a surprising happiness and promise of joy. It describes and offers a mystery of life that is full and forever. The magnificent Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated on August 15 proclaims the deepest and most profound of these Christian mysteries and promises. Virgin Mary--  the Bearer of God who was the first and best disciple of her Son-- lived a long life in the presence of God. She experienced a resurrection after falling asleep in death (called Dormition) and a transport to Heaven (called   Metestiseen, Assumption). Remarkably, this is the joy that lies in wait for all other disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ whose bodies will rise at the end of time and be with God in Heaven forever.

Let us examine the details of the Assumption of Our Blessed Virgin Mary in the tradition and legend of the event of her falling asleep and transport to Heaven as found in the icon and liturgy of the ancient Church. At the beginning, understanding that God entered into the human realm to stamp out death and bring life without end to humanity, we see this believing young Hebrew mother as the first person since Adam and Eve to experience realization of God's full life ... herself receiving life without end both physically and spiritually in unity with God the Creator, a glory forever and ever.At the end of time, all those judged to be living in the presence of God, who is Life Eternal, will also receive this remarkable eternal gift.  


The spiritual powers receive her with honors due to God, and she who is truly the mother of Life departs unto life, the lamp of Light which no man can approach, the salvation of the faithful and the hope of our souls. (The Feast of Dormition, Great Vespers, Lete, Tone 2*). 

Cry out, O David, and tell us, what is this present feast about which you sang in the book of Psalms? And David says, "Christ has carried up into the heavenly mansions her who bore Him without seed. I sang of her in the Psalms calling her 'daughter, bride of God and virgin'. Therefore, mothers, daughters and brides of Christ, rejoice and call out, "Hail to you, O Lady, who have been translated to the Kingdom on high." (Orthros [Morning Prayer], Sessional Hymns after the First Reading from thePsalter, Tone 4*).  


Wherefore, O most pure Mother of God, forever alive with your Son, the Source of Life, do not cease to intercede with Him that He may guard and save your people from every trouble, for you are our intercessor. (Vespers, Tone 8 before the Entrance*).

Father Stephen Bonian, S.J.

A Maronite Jesuit priest serving the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon

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Song For Our Lady's Assumption

As the tower of David art thou,             O Mary,
And in thee there is no flaw,
How beautiful and lovely art thou in the adorning,
And the odor of thy ointments
Is like the fragarance of Libanus,
Above all perfume.....

Like a dove brooding over swelling waters,
Like vials that pour out perfumed oil,
Like lilies distilling their fragarance,
Like the golden vessels of Tharsis,
Like the choice Libanus and the cedar tree,
Like fair tall columns of marble
Set upon bases of gold, art thou, O Mary!

How beautiful and how lovely!

(The Mozarabic Liturgy, Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God's Mother and Mine. Poughkeepsie, NY: Marist Press, 1946.)

With First Vespers for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in view --it is now the beginning of the vesperal light and the Church gathers to pray her evening prayers-- thoughts turn to salvation in Christ and the meaning of Mary for us. She is the indeed the hope and comfort of the serious and pilgrim Christian. The great Mother of God shows us that the promises of God are true, reasonable and worthy of hope in this world and for life in the next. It is from her that we know the Second Person of the Trinity, it is her 'yes' to the Will of God that the great lie told of and to all humanity disappears.The Father of the Second Vatican Council point us in a direction:


Theotokos1.jpg"In the interim just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come,as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.


"It gives great joy and comfort to this holy and general Synod [Vatican II] that even among the separated brethren there are some who give due honor to the Mother of our Lord and Saviour, especially among the Orientals, who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honor to the Mother of God, ever virgin. The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and Mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. (Lumen Gentium, 68-69)

St Mary Major Basilica.jpgA few times a year the Church's sacred Liturgy observes a liturgical memorial of a church's dedication and today is one of those observances. When you get down to brass tax we don't glorify a building but the action of the Blessed Trinity in the lives of believers.

The point of Catholic dogma affirmed with the building of this Marian basilica is that Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos) defined by the Council of Ephesus in 431. This dogma keeps the orthodox Christian's faith Christ-centered, especially in matters of worship. The Church holds: "From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, in whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs. Accordingly, following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the cult of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: 'All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me'" (Lumen gentium, 66)

Our prayer at Mass today is:

Lord, pardon the sins of Your people. May the prayers of Mary, the mother of Your Son, help to save us for by ourselves we cannot please You.

Saint Mary Major is the oldest church in Rome dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the worship of the Trinity situated on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills in Rome. The construction of the basilica began following a promise of the benefactors (a Roman patrician), a dream of Pope Liberius and the presence of snow on the spot where the church was to be built on this date on an extraordinarily hot day in August in the 4th century. Pope Sixtus III consecrated the the church in 435. Hence, the Saint Mary Major is often called the Liberian Basilica or Saint Mary at the Snows or Saint Mary of the Crib. The holy crib that held the baby Jesus is retained there.

Today we call the Basilica of Saint Mary Major together with Saint Peter's (on Vatican Hill), Saint John Lateran and Saint Paul outside the Walls Papal (patriarchal or pontifical) basilicas. That is, these churches are directly connected with the ministry of the Pope and the altar in each of theses 4 churches is reserved for the exclusive use of the Pope to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass; there are times in which the Pope gives permission to a visiting cardinal or a patriarch of an Eastern Church to celebrate at his altar.

Some have designated the four papal basilicas in this way as way of keeping in mind the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of salvation wrought by Grace and the work of the Apostles:

Saint John Lateran recalls the See of Rome
Saint Peter's recalls the See of Constantinople
Saint Paul outside the Walls recalls the See of Alexandria
Saint Mary Major recalls the See of Antioch.

From a life on Saint Francis of Assisi by Saint Bonaventure:

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"The Portiuncula was an old church dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God which was abandoned. Francis had great devotion to the Queen of the world and when he saw that the church was deserted, he began to live there constantly in order to repair it. He heard that the Angels often visited it, so that it was called Saint Mary of the Angels, and he decided to stay there permanently out of reverence for the angels and love for the Mother of Christ.

He loved this spot more than any other in the world. It was here he began his religious life in a very small way; it is here he came to a happy end. When he was dying, he commended this spot above all others to the friars, because it was most dear to the Blessed Virgin.

This was the place where Saint Francis founded his Order by divine inspiration and it was divine providence which led him to repair three churches before he founded the Order and began to preach the Gospel.

This meant that he progressed from material things to more spiritual achievements, from lesser to greater, in due order, and it gave a prophetic indication of what he would accomplish later.

As he was living there by the church of Our Lady, Francis prayed to her who had conceived the Word, full of grace and truth, begging her insistently and with tears to become his advocate. Then he was granted the true spirit of the Gospel by the intercession of the Mother of mercy and he brought it to fruition.

He embraced the Mother of Our Lord Jesus with indescribable love because, as he said, it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother, and through her we found mercy. After Christ, he put all his trust in her and took her as his patroness for himself and his friars."

More on today's feast of Our Lady of the Angels and the Portiuncula Indulgence here. One has to remember that Holy Father Francis received this "little portion" church from the Benedictine monks!

Assumption/Dormition fast

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Death of the Virgin Caravaggio.jpgThose Christians who are not Orthodox --as in, Orthodox Christians or Eastern Orthodox or some version of this-- are likely not to be aware that today begins the traditional time of fasting in preparation for the great feast of the of the Assumption (if you are Catholic) or Dormition (if you are Orthodox) of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Theotokos), the all-holy Mother of God. In fact, the Churches of East and West are called upon to prepare for the yearly festival of our Lady by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sound familiar? Indeed, the 3-point spiritual discipline is identical with Lent and Advent.

The period of fast I am speaking of today is a period of time that ought to be understood as training ourselves to be spiritually vigilant. That all of us, no matter of Church membership, should be attentive to and practice fasting so that our hearts and mind and bodies are opened up to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Put another way, by fasting what could the Lord be offering us to know and love and live? Our prayerful vigilance for the feast of the Assumption/Dormition ought to be rekindled by Catholics because the practice opens us up to God's grace. Whether a Catholic takes on 14 days of fasting or something more modest it is a personal choice. But do something! And while I can't guarantee much, I can say that if we are faithful to the spiritual practices of the Church they will give us new eyes of faith, the eyes of the beatitudes, a new mentality with which to assess the world in which we live today. That is, to look with the same mercy and openness that God has for us due to the Incarnation.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate the same event, Mary's departure from earth, but each call the event by a different name. The Orthodox say that Mary died a natural death as any human being would, that her soul was received by her Son, Jesus, and on the third day her body was resurrected but didn't suffer bodily corruption. Catholicism says Mary was assumed by God's own power like that of Elias, into heaven body and soul at the moment of death. Catholic dogma defined by the Church leaves it an open question as to whether Mary died (see Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).

At any rate the Christian Churches of East and West up until today celebrates this significant feast of the Mother of God liturgically and has done so since the early years following the Council of Ephesus (431). Some point to the Jerusalem liturgical practices of the burial services of the Virgin as imitating those done on Good Friday for Jesus. The point is that the Assumption/Dormition feast is prepared for by a period of fasting, preparing the whole person to receive anew the Paschal Mystery wrought by Mary.

The period of fast lasts until August 14th. Remember, the Assumption/Dormition feast is the same solemn feast observed by both the Eastern and Western Churches but with different emphases depending on the Church that you belong to. But one should note that this fast has a stricter sense than even that of the Nativity and Apostles' fasts.

The Orthodox Church's rules for fasting can be found here and if you are Catholic it might be a good idea to consider some time in prayer and fasting as a path to celebrate the Marian feast of the Assumption or Dormition on August 15th.

PS: The Assumption is my most favorite of Marian feasts!

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Blessed Virgin Mary category from August 2010.

Blessed Virgin Mary: July 2010 is the previous archive.

Blessed Virgin Mary: September 2010 is the next archive.

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